The highly anticipated second album from Black Country, New Road was released on February 4th to critical acclaimFLICKR/PAUL HUDSON

The lead up to the release of Ants From Up There quickly became overshadowed by Black Country, New Road’s announcement that Isaac Wood, vocalist and lead guitarist, would be leaving the group. Mental health struggles were insinuated. And so, what initially strikes as a classic break-up album, wrought with giddy highs and abject lows, soon appears as Wood’s convulsive yet triumphant swan song to the band – and fans. The motif of the Concorde jet that pervades the album thus accordingly embodies the unrequited lover, their broken relationship, and the band itself; dizzying altitudes of euphoria are paired with the plummeting lows of the profligate aeronautical venture. Concorde, like the relationship and Wood’s role in the band, was doomed to end. “Isaac will suffer, Concorde will fly”, he sings on the thematic centrepiece of the album, ‘Concorde’, hinting at his departure and the band’s promise to continue without him. Let us hope that the former proves merely poetic, and the latter prophetic.

Black Country, New Road emerged in 2018 alongside a coterie of virtuosic UK post-punk bands that included black midi and Squid. Their first album, For The First Time, swaggeringly channelled Gen Z ennui and angst, self-deprecatingly proclaiming that they were “the world’s second-best Slint tribute act”. But, citing Arcade Fire as a major influence on their sophomore album is perhaps an indication of the direction in which the band have subsequently wished to turn, as the apathetic reclusion of Slint’s post-punk potency is supplicated with Arcade Fire’s literacy, emotional heft and theatrical abundance. The esoteric has met the universal.

The influences do not stop here. Album opener ‘Intro’, along with ‘Haldern’, evoke Steve Reich’s undulating minimalist patterns; ‘Chaos Space Marine’ clatters with klezmer-style horns and violin; ‘Mark’s Theme’ provides a poignant jazz interlude before the album’s grandstand finale. Indeed, the album is operatic, exercising masterful control over tension and release: whispered movements ebb towards cathartic, cacophonous conclusions in ‘Concorde’, ‘The Place Where He Inserted the Blade’, and ‘Snow Globes’, as traditional structures are flaunted for baroque arrangements that rarely end where they once began. While the guitar distortion and drum beats that drove the previous album remain, it is rather the acoustic heavy arrangements that proffer the band’s graduation from post-punk fledglings: deft and controlled musicianship, along with the band’s tender and enigmatic focal point in Wood, are unabashedly foregrounded.

The third single, 'Concorde', introduces the motif of the Concorde airliner that pervades the albumYOUTUBE/BLACK COUNTRY, NEW ROAD

Wood’s own lyrics, sung in a quivering baritone or pitched to a tormented screech, reflect the building tensions and emphatic releases so inherent to the music. Raw emotional depths are plunged in ‘Concorde’, as Wood sings, “I was made to love you/ Can’t you tell?”, while bombast wit abounds in ‘Good Will Hunting’, as he muses, “It’s just been a weekend, but in my mind we summer in France with our genius daughters”. Confessional and cryptic, Wood’s lyrics can confound. From Billie Eilish to a peculiar reference to a “clam” that appears several times across the album, lyrical inspiration is unorthodox. ‘Snow Globes’ climbs towards a crescendo, drums beaten in frenzy as Wood sings, “Oh, god of weather, Henry knows/ Snow globes don’t shake on their own” – one YouTuber valiantly endeavours to compare the song to the English Reformation. Sung with such emotional depth and range, Wood’s poetry invites such close study.


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Album finale ‘Basketball Shoes’ moves effortlessly from elegiac pine to orchestral swell, emo interlude to explosive finish. The motif of the Concorde jet bookends the song, beginning with “Concorde flies in my room, / Tears the house to shreds”, and hence foreshadowing Wood’s final lines as Black Country, New Road’s frontman: “All I’ve been forms the drone/We sing the rest/Oh, your generous loan to me/Your crippling interest.” This album marks Wood’s break from a relationship – be it from a lover, the band, or the audience. It is despairing. It is triumphant. It is brilliant. And, sadly, it closes a chapter on one era of Black Country, New Road. What comes is a new beginning.